Today I plunged into the realm of idioms for some reason or another. Below there is a group of randomly picked set expressions followed by a crammed story. The story, hastily cooked up as it was, sounds somewhat artificial, but… (but me no buts!) it serves a noble purpose of consolidating the idioms and committing them to memory.


To have an axe to grind – to have some selfish objective in view

To get one’s back up – to rouse one’s anger

Backstairs influence – influence exerted in an underhand or clandestine manner
To cause bad blood – to cause strife and enmity
A bad egg– a worthless person

A bad penny – a worthless person

To go a-begging – to be sold very cheaply because No-one cares to buy

To take the bit between one’s teeth – to get out of control, to become unmanageable

To have kissed the blarney stone – to have a very persuasive tongue

At first blush – at first sight

To Bowdlerize – to remove all the objectionable passages from a book (Thomas Bowdler in 1818 published an expurgated version of Shakespeare’s works – hence the name).

John Bull – an Englishman
To burke a question – to suppress or prevent any discussion on it (From a notorious Irish criminal names Burke who used to waylay people, suffocate them and sell the bodies to the medical schools.)
But me no buts – Do not bring forward objections

See which way the cat jumps – Sit on the fence; see how things are likely to turn out before deciding on a course of action
To step into dead men’s shoes to come into an inheritance, to succeed someone

To darken one’s door – to pay a visit to one’s house <Who’s this who has come to darken my door? – jocular phrase> <Go and never darken my door again – seriously and angrily>

To set by the ears – to cause (someone, generally a group of two or people) to engage in a squabble, dispute or altercation

To strain at a gnat and swallow a camel – to be over particular in small things and lax in more important issues

To split hairs – to argue about trifles

A die-hard – one who yields a point only after a struggle

Back in harness – to resume work after a holiday
To die in harness – to continue at one’s occupation until death
To harp on the same string – to refer repeatedly to the same subject

To show the cloven hoof – to reveal one’s evil intentions

Where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise – It is foolish to try to educate people who are happy to remain in their state of ignorance

To have too many irons in the fire – to be attempting too many things at the same time

Cheek by jowl – with cheeks close together; close together <The pedestrians had to go cheek by jowl along the narrow streets>

To kowtow to anyone – to act in a very servile manner
To smell of the lamp – to show signs of strenuous preparation for an examination or a speech; to bear marks of great study and labor, as a literary comp[osition etc.
To take a leaf out of one’s book – to imitate, to follow the example of another

Hard lines– a hard lot to be in an extremely unenviable position

In the nick of time – at the right moment; just before too late
To mind one’s P’s and Q’s – to be very particular about one’s behavior. (In the old days in the ale house the host used to mark up the pints and quarts consumed by his customers on the wall or a blackboard. It therefore behooved the customer to mind his P (Pints) and Q (Quarts) in order that he did not get overcharged.)
Pin money – originally a husband’s allowance to his wife for dress, toilet necessaries, etc. Now a negligible amount

To plough the sands – to labor uselessly
To plough a lonely furrow – to hold a view opposed to all your associates; to pursue with determination an unusual course of action or branch of study

Any port in a storm – When one is in great difficulty one looks for help from any quarter
To pull together– to co-operate
To pull strings – to court the favor of highly placed officials in order to Secure remunerative jobs or positions

To hold the purse strings – to have control of finance
To make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – to attempt to accomplish great things with inferior materials

To draw a red-herring across the trail – to turn attention from the real issue by irrelevant discussion

To give (a person) plenty of rope – to allow a person to act as he pleases in order that he may commit some blunder
To know the ropes – to be thoroughly acquainted with the particular Situation

To rough it – to put up with inconveniences and hardships
Rough and ready – hastily prepared, without neatness or adornment
Rough and tumble – in a disorderly manner
To ride roughshod over – to treat in a high-handed fashion
To see daylight – to begin to understand

A month of Sundays – an impossible event that will never happen <You want to borrow my car? In a month of Sundays!> <He is never going to graduate, not in a month of Sundays>

To go off at a tangent, to fly off at a tangent – to change suddenly to a different course of thought or action
On the tapis – under consideration
To spoil the ship for a ha’p’ orth of tar – to ruin something extremely valuable by failure to spend trifling sums on maintenance and repair

A triton among the minnows – a person who completely dominates all his fellows
To turn turtle – to overturn, to make a complete somersault

A nine days’ wonder – an event which creates a sensation for a time but is soon forgotten


Can we trust people who have an axe to grind? That kind of attitude gets everybody’s back up and causes bad blood in a company. Neither are trusted those who have once kissed the blarney stone. How about the guys who prefer to sit on the fence and see which way the cat jumps? Just the same.

Another type who may be qualified as “bad eggs” are die-hards. Very often they like to split hairs and harp on the same string. I would never take a leaf out of their book, but be mindful of my P’s and Q’s. while dealing with them.

Who are respected, then? Those who plough a lonely furrow, being ready to pull together with the team at any moment. They’ll always find a port in a storm if need be. Very often they are creative and inventive and, as such, they are able to make a purse out of a sow’s ear – only give them plenty of rope! Yes, at times they may fly off at a tangent, but they will never spoil their ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.

The view expressed may be overdosed with idioms and felt as being lexically “bumpy”, but, hopefully, my well-wishers will rough it.


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